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Hard work, tough love turn Ar’Mond Davis into Division I prospect

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For young athletes hoping to earn a Division I scholarship, there’s no one set path to that goal. While many take the seemingly straightforward track from high school to college, the experiences on the way are anything but similar. And then there are those whose life experiences result in a more circuitous journey, with the need for positive influences and an unwillingness to give up being even greater.

That’s been the case for Ar’Mond Davis, who dealt with tough situations throughout his time in high school. From dealing with a living situation that was at times uncertain and having his coaches pick him up at a local mall so as to keep his issues private, to now being the focus of many major college programs’ recruiting efforts. It’s safe to say that Ar’Mond Davis has come a long way.

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While Davis’ solid freshman season at the College of Southern Idaho led to his being selected to play in last month’s JucoRecruiting.com Elite 80 West Showcase in Las Vegas, the journey began in Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma may not get the national pub that Seattle does but the city hasn’t lacked for high-level basketball talent in recent years, with Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley being the most noteworthy products who have gone from Tacoma to the Division I level and then on to the professional ranks, where they currently play alongside each other in the Boston Celtics back court.

For Davis to keep his chances of joining that list alive, he had to overcome a set of circumstances that can derail a young person and make their dreams unreachable.

“Sometimes just having to worry about where I’d stay or what I was going to eat, stuff like that,” Davis told NBC Sports during a phone interview, and it’s understandable that a person would be a bit guarded, not wanting to reveal too much to outsiders when it comes to family hardships.

With the unpredictability of his life at the time, having a routine he could rely on was incredibly valuable to Davis and that was (and still is) something he could find in basketball. The security of being able to pick up a ball and work on his game aided Davis as a youngster, and that only strengthened with his move from Lincoln High School to Foss High School in the spring of his junior year. There he would play for coach Mike Cocke, who looked to provide both the encouragement and discipline his newest addition needed after spending the last couple of seasons working to find neutralize Davis one the court.

“He’s an inner-city kid from a single-parent household with his mother raising him and his older brother being his role model,” Cocke said. “The thing he lacked when he showed up at our school was discipline within the classroom. Some stuff at home probably could have been a little tighter than it was, and that hurt him a little bit.

“Because by the time he showed up at Foss, his dreams of playing Division I college basketball right after high school would have been pretty hard to achieve. My biggest thing was I knew the talent and the kind of kid he was; he was never a bad person, he just never had a male role model to instill some discipline in him and make him a better person on and off the floor.”

Davis’ time at Foss was successful on multiple levels. Not only was he a standout for the team there, but it also led to his joining the Portland-based I-5 Elite grassroots program in the summer prior to his senior year. Running the program was head coach Kumbeno Memory, who played against Cocke at the junior college level, and that connection ultimately led to the high school coach knowing that there was another mentor willing and able to provide Davis with the help he needed in basketball and beyond to reach his dreams.

“Cocke reached out to Beno and said that he had a kid who was looking for a positive situation,” said I-5 Elite coach Chris Foss. “A situation where he could not only get some tough love but some guidance as well, which was something we were able to provide.”

And it didn’t take Davis, who originally played for the Team ACCESS program, very long to make an impression on his new I-5 Elite teammates. As a matter of fact, that would occur in Davis’ first practice with the team.

source:
I-5 Elite Basketball

“I just remember that first day of practice he was kind of a quieter kid initially, a little more reserved and he let his actions speak for him,” Foss noted. “We play a really fundamental brand of basketball but we don’t have the high-flyers that everybody else has. That day, we don’t normally do it, we started out with a “3-on-2, 2-on-1” drill; we normally do a lot out of the secondary break. They’re going down, someone threw him a pass and he just elevated, cocked the ball back and ‘BOOM.’

“We’re really high on kids talking on the court, having a high IQ and a motor, which are traits that we’ve been able to have success with and have kids overachieve. At the start we’re like, ‘OK, real quiet kid,’ and then he did that and it was like ‘the gym’s woken up.’ This was a little bit different than what we were used to, but from day one he was willing to buy in to what we were trying to do and could just tell he was a really sincere kid.”

While Davis flourished with his new program, there were also signs that his experiences weren’t in line with those of the average child. With that in mind, coaches looked to do the best they could to ensure that Davis understood that they would be there to help him out whenever he needed assistance.

“To be honest, I wasn’t as well-versed in what he was going through until we played in a tournament in Bellevue (Washington) to start the July live period,” Foss noted. “We practiced in Portland the week before and went up there the following Thursday (the day before the event started) and he had us pick him up at the mall instead of going to pick him up at his house.

“Just kind of being private with everything he was going through at the time,” Foss continued. “Just finding out as things went on, sitting down and having talks with him or hearing about it from Cocke or other people who were close to him, and we realized that he doesn’t have it like everyone else does. And it kind of showed why he did some of the things that he did, but our immediate and only response has been to give him a ton of love.”

After averaging just over 26 points per game as a senior at Foss High School, Davis went through the process of choosing a junior college that would best prepare him to make the jump to a four-year school not only athletically but academically as well. While there were initial thoughts of remaining close to home for junior college, Davis ultimately took the challenge of joining a College of Southern Idaho (CSI) program that annually ranks among the best in the country.

“In the recruiting process he was actually one of the easier guys to recruit,” CSI assistant Brock Morris said. “And what I mean by that is, we get a lot of high-level guys here and a lot of guys need to hear what you can do for them. With Ar’Mond we were able to challenge him, ask if he’s willing to compete with the best or not and he said he wanted to take on that opportunity. That, to me, stuck out.

“This isn’t a guy shying away from [the competition]. He came off the bench last year, was our second-leading scorer and didn’t complain at all. I think that translated back to his recruitment.”

On a deep roster Davis made the most of his playing time in 2014-15, averaging 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in helping CSI win 31 games and make the trip to Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas that junior college programs aim for every season. There are multiple reasons why Davis was able to play as well as he did as a freshman. Of course, there’s the talent and the desire to advance in his basketball career.

But in talking with Cocke, Foss and Morris there was a label that each felt fit Davis well: gym rat. And not the kind of self-proclaimed gym rat who sends out proclamations of “no days off” on social media, only for their in-game production to not be on par with that label. Davis has put in the work, with his coaches being witnesses to his development.

“Absolutely. He’s always been that way,” Cocke said. “It doesn’t really matter what time of day it is, send him a text saying ‘Hey, the gym’s open’ and he’ll show up and work out. He always wants to play, and if he’s not playing with us he’s playing at a local gym by his apartment, or he’s up in Seattle just trying to find a gym to work on his game or get a run in.”

Those years of using basketball as both a way to forget about the hand life dealt him and a path to a better life have paid off for Davis, who’s expected to be a leader for his CSI team as a sophomore. There’s also the recruiting aspect, with programs such as Alabama, Penn State, Memphis (he’ll visit there the second weekend in September), Missouri and Texas A&M either offering scholarships or in the case of A&M showing interest (A&M eventually did offer Davis).

With his ability to score at multiple levels and a desire to improve defensively as well, Davis can be an impact addition to a Division I program when he makes that move. Thanks to the combination of coaches who refused to let him quit and his own work ethic, Davis is well on his way to making strides as both an athlete and a young man.

“Coach Cocke was really helpful, because he’d help guide me and make sure I kept going in the right direction,” Davis said. “My I-5 Elite coach was really helpful too. There would be times when I’d think about giving up, but they kept on me to make sure I kept working to be successful.”

Thursday’s Things To Know: No. 6 Michigan State outlasts Nebraska, Ja Morant dunks all over the OVC and the Pac-12 has a sole leader

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There wasn’t a matchup of top-25 teams Thursday, but there were competitive games across the country, starting in Lincoln with Michigan State and Nebraska and ending in Tempe with Oregon State and Arizona State. Pl, there was a dunk that may have qualified as national emergency. Here’s what you need to know:

NO. 6 MICHIGAN STATE STAYS PERFECT IN THE B1G WITH WIN AT NEBRASKA

Nebraska looked like it had the sixth-ranked Spartans on the ropes in Lincoln with the score knotted at 44 just inside the midpoint of the second half. Then, though, Michigan State ripped off a 7-0 run and never looked back – despite an ugly final minute – to claim a 70-64 win over the Huskers to move to 16-2 on the year and 7-0 in the Big Ten.

The win is most notable for the Spartans as it once again came without the services of Joshua Langford or Nick Ahrens, both of whom continue to be sidelined with injuries. With both on the shelf, Cassius Winston put together a game to bolster his player of the year candidacy, scoring a career-best 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting while dishing out six assists and grabbing three rebounds. Winston doesn’t have the game that always pops off the TV screen, but he’s the type of veteran point guard that can help propel a team to a national title, especially if Langford comes back healthy and productive.

For the Huskers, it’s certainly not a bad loss given Michigan State’s profile, but the opportunity cost has to sting. Last year Tim Miles’ team racked up wins, but missed out on the tournament because not enough of them were of the quality variety. Here, they had a top-10 team staggered with less than 10 minutes to play at home but couldn’t close the deal. The good news for them is they’ve already got a couple of nice wins on the resume, but most importantly the B1G isn’t the wasteland it was last year, leaving them with bountiful opportunities to pick up meaningful victories before March. To do that, though, they can’t have James Palmer, Jr. going 6 of 21 from the floor like he did against the Spartans. To Palmer’s credit, though, he got to the line 11 times and made every attempt to finish with 24 points while grabbing eight rebounds and recording three assists. Shooting 5 of 26 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range won’t win you too many games, either.

 

STAY OUT OF JA MORANT’S WAY

If you wanna jump with Ja Morant, God bless you, but it ain’t going to work out well for you. Eastern Illinois learned that lesson Thursday as Morant unleashed yet another must-see dunk.

On top of that, the future lottery pick had 27 points and nine assists while shooting 11 of 16 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He’s an unsolvable problem for the OVC.

 

WASHINGTON IS ALONE IN FIRST IN THE PAC-12

Congratulations to the Washington Huskies, the last remaining undefeated in Pac-12 play. It may not be an honor, but it’s something, at least.

Mike Hopkins’ team blasted Stanford (80-64) while Arizona lost at home to Oregon (59-54) and Oregon State was behind big before making things tight in Tempe and eventually losing to Arizona State (70-67), which has now won three of four. There’s been plenty written about the Pac-12, but the league continues to do itself damage, most notable with the Wildcats taking a loss in Tuscon to a depleted Ducks team. That’s not going to do much for the conference’s reputation or their own NCAA tournament resume.

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

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The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

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